Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Tim Wirth: Philanthropy Needs to Shout More

Attended the plenary session on global health Monday morning at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Peter Piot (UNAIDS), Jim Kim (Harvard and PIH), Timothy Wirth (UN Foundation) were on the panel with David Baltimore moderating.

Piot talked about what makes AIDS unique, that we’re entering another stage in the epidemic—can no longer act as if we’re in an acute stage (But hasn’t that been true for quite a while?) Wondered how much he’s been stung by criticism over last November's revised AIDS figures.

Jim Kim gave another version of his pitch for creation of a science of health care delivery. New thing was that he acknowledged criticism from academics that “health care delivery” is not a basic science. Still, he plugged it. Also tackled the “is too much money being spent on HIV?” question. Not sure he’s found the right formula for that one yet.

Learned the most from Tim Wirth’s presentation. Wirth is the former senator from Colorado and now head of UN Foundation. He was on a breakfast panel I moderated at TIME’s Global Health Summit in 2005.

Wirth talked about a lack of accountability among non-profits and foundations. That foundations and non-profit world are too timid about joining the public conversation in areas that they know something about. Made five points:

1. Need for stronger advocacy. Most foundations are terrified by the idea of making political (small p) statements . This dates back to the Ford Foundation hearings in the late 1960s.

2. Imbalance of funding on climate change. Most money going into research to prevent climate change. Not enough n how to adapt to it/mitigate damage we already know is going to happen.

3. Health systems. Philanthropy needs to help move folks away from “stove-pipe funding.”

4. Budget advocacy. Claimed US government cutting aid to Rwanda at the same time that President Bush is visiting Rwanda.

5. Partnerships. Philanthropy can help private sector engage more thoroughly with the UN.

Afterwards, at the press availability, I asked Piot about Malawi and the DFID program to top up salaries for nurses and other health care workers. He promised to send me contact information for Erasmus Norat and Desmond Johns, who were both “there at the creation” of Malawi’s Human Resources Emergency Program. In talking about salary top-ups, Piot says the Malawi/DFID program is unique. “That was breaking a taboo," Piot said. "Normally donors don’t pay for salaries—except for people from the donor country—sorry to be blunt about it.”

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